A Black Crisis – “Our Children Need Our Representation”

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For some folks, the photo on the left is just fine. But look a little harder…

Our Black children need representation in the courts.

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On the streets there’s a saying, “I’m represent-in”. But for hundreds of Black children there’s no one representing.

A young Black child, two years old has had numerous admissions to the Emergency Room for dehydration, dizziness, head contusions and abrasions. She also has a history of anemia. The mother is low functioning (general intelligence of a 12 year-old and daily living skills of a nine year old) and refers to her daughter using vulgarities. The mother appears unable to separate her considerable needs from those of her child.

This example is just one of many where our Black children must be protected and taken out of a bad situation and placed under the supervison of the courts. The problem is out of approximately 250 court appointed guardians there are only 20 Black guardians in Minneapolis. Decisions are being made about our Black children by people who don’t look like them or understand what it takes for a Black child to survive. This “epidemic” has and will continue to grow in tragic proportions if Black men and women don’t “stop, drop and listen”.

At an early morning breakfast with Ms. Michelle Johnson, Guardian ad Litem Volunteer Coordinator for Hennepin County courts, her passion and comment sent shivers down my spine. She said, “In the best case scenario, they (the volunteer guardians), should reflect the culture of the children they represent”. In Hennepin County and Ramsey County there is a growing concern and need for Black men and women to volunteer to become Guardian ad Litem’s (GAL). The need is escalated due to the high number of children being neglected, abused and living bad situations at home. An African Proverb says, “It takes a village to raise a child”, but what’s happening to our villages? The fail-safe put in place to catch these children has crumbled. Back in the day, there was always a grandmother, aunt or uncle that would take on the responsibility to raise a child of relatives that was having trouble in life. Today, with the current breakdown of the Black family infrastructure, that fail-safe is often no longer an option.

When you have a mother who is 16 years old and a grandmother who is 35 years old the “seasoning” of life has not happened, there is no one to turn to, hence the statement, “babies having babies”. There are no winners or losers just unfortunates – no amount of social service assistance will help until we as a Black race take pride and show unconditional love for each other and more importantly our children.

What is a Guardian ad Litem?

A Guardian ad Litem is an advocate for a child whose welfare is a matter of concern for the court. In legal terms, it means “guardian for the lawsuit”. When the court is making decisions that will affect a child’s future, the child needs and deserves a spokesperson – an objective adult to provide independent information about the best interests of the child. While other parties in the case are concerned about the child, the Guardian ad Litem is the only person in the case whose sole concern is the best interests of the child, and he or she is assigned as an advocate for the child for the duration of the court process.

Different from a legal guardian, the Guardian ad Litem has no control over the person or property of the child and does not provide a home for the child. The Guardian ad Litem does not function as the child’s attorney and does not provide direct services to the child.

Hennepin County provides this service with a combination of paid staff and more than 250 specially-trained community volunteers. On any given day, guardians ad litem represent the best interests of some 2,500 vulnerable children involved in the court system through no fault of their own.

“Justice for children cannot be sought, let alone achieved, if their voice is not represented in the hearings that determine their fate. Guardians ad Litem are that voice.” -Former Chief Justice Kathleen Blatz, Minnesota Supreme Court

The Guardian ad Litem Program is looking for and will actively engage Black men and women who are willing to become committed to advocate for our Black Children. Black children are caught up in the juvenile justice system – not because the committed a crime, but due to the fact no one Black will take that first step and make positive life altering recommendations for them.

Are you “Representing”?

You can contact the Hennepin County Guardian ad Litem Program at 612-348-6824. Join us on Wednesday March 19, 2008 at Babalu Restaurant, 801 Washington Avenue North in the Historic Warehouse District in downtown Minneapolis for a Q & A networking event about Guardian ad Litem Programs in Minneapolis & St. Paul – 6-10PM.

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